Safe Motherhood Project Guatemala 2013/2014

This past year was the 12th year of our project to teach emergency birthing skills to Mayan Comadronas, the traditional birth attendants who attend the majority of births in the rural highlands of Guatemala. There is no doubt that in Guatemala, mortality risk is greater for indigenous women giving birth in rural areas than for their urban counterparts. We work on the premise that having a skilled and knowledgeable birth attendant improves outcomes for a pregnant woman.

What became apparent this year more than other years was how important the role of Comadrona is in Mayan Cosmology. It does not suffice to tell pregnant Mayan women to have their babies in a clinic or hospital. The Comadrona is an integral part of their birthing experience. Fortunately, in 2014, the Guatemalan government ratified a new law that officially recognizes Mayan Comadronas for the first time as an essential part of the country’s health care system. The comadronas are to be allowed to participate in a woman’s experience in hospital and are encouraged to continue to be with their patients in cases of transfer of care for birthing complications.

We see our project as very useful to helping Comadronas obtain the training they need to fulfill this newly recognized role. In February of 2014, we met with representatives of the Pan American Health Organization and the Guatemalan Ministry of Health. We wanted these institutions to be aware of our work and of what our project could offer in their endeavor to see all Comadronas trained. The doctor we met from the Ministry of Health was very interested in our course. We invited him to come and observe our project in action in San Pedro Sacatapequez, but unfortunately neither he nor a staff member could attend.

Although we have had continuing support from local health offices wherever we have worked in Guatemala, we have hoped to have official sanction of our project at the federal level.  Our efforts this year I believe were a positive first step in this direction. This networking along with the legal recognition of Comadronas confirms the value of our course.

This past year our Guatemalan project coordinator and teacher, Cenaida Juarez, was able to organize 3 extra courses in addition to the 2 courses we Canadians attended in February 2014. The first was in November 2013 in collaboration with a Guatemalan NGO called Amigas. The 5 day course was taught in Pacaja, Quetzaltenango. Twenty-six Comadronas completed the course. In June 2014, 32 student nurses from the University of San Carlos in Quetzaltenango completed the course. These new nurses often obtain jobs at CAP clinics in rural communities where they are expected to provide 24h emergency medical care which can include obstetrics. In October 2014, 32 Comadronas of San Miguel Ixtahuacan in a remote area of the Department of San Marcos in the northwest part of the country completed a five day course.

In February, we were present in San Pedro Sacatepequez, Department of San Marcos for two courses that took place at the health unit which also had dedicated clinic space for Comadronas to use. Twenty-four students participated the first week, including 2 volunteer firemen. Thirty-three students participated in our course the second week, including the first male Comadron we have met. He initially worked as a health promoter in his community and gained the confidence of his fellow citizens such that women started coming to him to assist with their births. He was concerned that we had a well balanced diet and insisted on bringing us fresh vegetables from his garden.

We are so proud of our team of instructors, Cenaida Juarez and Gloria Cotuj, who have embraced this project from the beginning. There is very little need for us Canadians to teach now. I see our role henceforth as one of support; our presence is needed on a regular basis to ensure the curriculum is on track. And of course, there is the ongoing challenge of raising funds to keep the project going. We have a modest annual budget of about $25,000 CAD.  In low resource countries, it is nearly impossible to find collaborative funding. I do believe that it is funding initiatives and private donations from affluent countries that ensure the longevity of projects such as ours. We have now taught 733 students over the past 12 years!  I believe this project provides huge value for dollars spent.

We will be back in the Department of San Marcos again in February 2015 just before the Rose Charities Meeting in Costa Rica. If someone from the Rose Charities community wished to witness what we do, we would love to have him/her along.

If you would like to donate to this project, please follow the links below and select “Safe Motherhood” from the fund drop-down. Thank-you for your support!

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